Sometimes, the stalking, the waiting, and taking the shot is the easiest part of hunting. Once down, a sizable elk, for example, is literally dead weight that you’ll have to deal with. Depending on the time of year and outside temperature, getting your harvest from field to freezer is a race against time.

Field Dressing Your Harvest

HAULING: I’ll admit I’m too cheap to hire a local packer to bring his horses, mules or llamas to haul out my elk meat. Remember those freighter packs? We line their interiors with heavy-duty plastic bags and then fill them with 2.5-gallon Ziploc bags as we bone out the elk. Granted, it’s not much fun being a pack mule, but it’s a great way to save money.

FIELD DRESSING: To make butchering easier, we pack two fillet knives and a stick sharpener, and we don’t gut the elk. We skin and peel back the hide from one side of the elk where it fell, carve all the meat from its legs, back, neck and ribs, and then flip it over and repeat the process. To remove the tenderloins, make a couple of slits above them, slide a hand into the cavity and gently tug this delectable meat free with your fingers.

Time and Physical Limits

MEAT CONCERNS: If you’re packing out your elk and daytime temperatures are hitting 70 and higher, don’t hunt so far from camp that you can’t retrieve the meat without risking spoilage. We typically hunt within 2 miles of our campsite in early to mid-September. With three of us working hard, we know we’ll need at least eight hours to cut up an elk and get its meat, hide and antlers back to camp.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS: Everyone can walk farther distances and lift heavier weights than what you’ll tote when hauling elk meat, but seldom will you attempt both at the same time in tougher country. Packing out an elk on steep, brushy mountainsides can be treacherous, no matter how great your strength or conditioning. As you head for camp under a full load, keep reminding yourself: “Baby steps. Baby steps.” Take your time. You’ll get there.

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